Thursday, October 16, 2014

Halloween Havoc: MAXIM XUL (1991)

Kids, you might want to sit down for this one.  Before being allowed to subsist on convention earnings from bloated autograph sales, former A-list movie stars actually had to earn their keep back in the day.  Past their prime actors and actresses had to keep the lights on and this resulted in some truly odd screen appearances.  It explains how people like Karen Black, David Carradine, and even Margaux Hemingway end up in Fred Olen Ray movies in the ‘80s.  Hell, it explains Aldo Ray’s entire career post-1968.  They didn’t have the luxury of $50 autographs, so they worked and took everything that came their way.  These pre-convention blues explains how Adam West, TV’s popular Batman, wound up finding himself in this low budget demonic possession oddity from Baltimore, Maryland.

The film opens in a blue collar bar where blue collar folks do what they always do in their down time – drink beer and arm wrestle!  The unofficial champ challenges a guy wearing a yellow hardhat and promptly loses.  After winning, the hardhat guy heads home, only to be followed down an alley by a stranger and beaten to death with a wrench. Now either people in Maryland take their arm wrestling mucho serious, or there is some kind of killer haunting the night.  My money is on the former.  Enter our hero, Detective Joe Kavanagh (Jefferson Leinberger).  We learn right away that some of his peers don’t think too highly of him as one guy says he sucks as a detective and mentions he only got the job because of his cop daddy. While exploring the crime scene surroundings, Joe runs into Professor Marduk (Adam West) who cryptically says this kind of stuff interests him.

Joe goes to visit his potential squeeze in reporter Amanda Treet (Mary Schaeffer), but she is preoccupied by these killings dubbed “The Ripper Murders.”  Wow, real original there, newspaper staff.  We then inexplicably cut to a courtroom scene where sleazy defense attorney Phyllis Robishon (Billie Shaeffer) is grilling an old lady witness on the stand.  Jeez, this casting agent sure liked folks named Schaeffer/Shaeffer.  Anyway, Robishon proves her unpleasantness by making an old lady cry and then run out of the courtroom.  They run things differently in Maryland I guess.  Apparently, this was one of Joe’s cases and he is pissed at Robishon.  But not pissed enough to turn down her offer of dinner.  Post-meal they head back to Robishon’s place and she lays it all out on the line for him when she says, “You’re not for sale and I want what I can’t have.”  He shows her by leaving her standing cold in her negligee, which causes her to crush her wine glass in her hand.  Wait, wasn’t this movie about demons and killings?

Meanwhile, Amanda and her wannabe reporter photographer Gene (Tony Vogelli) keep investigating the murders. They stumble upon a guy named Earl Wilson (Hal Strieb), a former killer who just happened to be released from an insane asylum the day the murders started and, if you caught it, was the killer in the opening.  When they stake out his place, they see him carrying a bunch of packages inside.  Naturally, they break in and discover he has stored a bunch of body parts in a trunk.  Unfortunately for them, he comes back mid-search and attacks them with a power grinder.  Luckily for them, Joe and his partner Frank (Charles E. Rickard, who also co-wrote) pulled up Wilson’s name on the computer after Wilson beat up Joe at the bar from the opening.  They arrive just in time to put some more lead in his diet. This leads us to another Adam West cameo where he says, “It’s not over” and implores the detective to come visit him for info.  Jeez, this guy is playing hard to get.  You know, Prof, you could just tell him what you know right there.

Anyway, it turns out the cryptic college professor is right.  Doctors at the hospital marvel that Wilson is still alive because “four of the six shots you hit him with were fatal wounds.”  A loose end, Wilson doesn’t have very long to live though as someone wearing high heels enters his room and rips the throat out of the comatose killer.  Gee, this movie only has two female characters so I wonder who the killer is.  News of Wilson’s death reaches Joe and we get the following great exchange:

Joe: “I thought it was over.”
Amanda: “He said it wasn’t.”
Joe: “Who?”

Who?  You forgot the professor who said it wasn’t over just a few hours ago?  You know what, Joe, I’m starting to agree with your colleagues that say you might be a crappy detective. So Joe finally goes to see Prof. Marduk and gets a speech about Maxim Xul (Ultimate Evil), the world’s worst demon, by a fireplace.  So this is why Marduk didn’t want to tell Joe his story in public?  He wanted atmosphere and mood?

Apologies if my review is a bit too plot heavy, but there really isn’t much to say about MAXIM XUL.  I’m not sure why, but the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was a time rife with “that woman be possessed” flicks like THE KISS (1988), THE GUARDIAN (1990), SATAN’S PRINCESS (1990), and PRETTY WOMAN (1990). Okay, maybe not that last one.  Debuting director Arthur Egeli seems to have also been influenced quite a bit by the previous year’s THE EXORCIST III (1990), which partially shot in neighboring Washington D.C. before this.  In fact, the films are remarkably similar as you have a detective chasing/facing a supernatural evil killer mutilating bodies.  Where the two films differ is when it comes to solid plotting, good acting, and all that stuff. Lead Jefferson Leinberger is about as dull as they come and isn’t done any favors by the screenplay by Egeli and co-star Rickard.  Seriously, this might be one of the dumbest cop characters ever on screen.  Imagine this, an investigator who doesn’t investigate!  Hell, he doesn’t even like to ask questions outside of “do you have plans for dinner?”  Also, the mystery as to who the main villain is doesn’t pan out as, like I mentioned before, the film only has two female characters.  Yes, if you didn’t gather it earlier, Maxim Xul is the female attorney.  Even worse, none of the cops seem to recognize all of the ripper victims are trial witnesses.  Worst of all, Egeli doesn’t deliver when we finally see the villain in demon form.  Looking like a refurbished Syngenor mask, Maxim Xul only gets a few seconds of screen time before getting its head lopped off.  It is a shame too as the film does have some things going for it.  Enlisting West is a smart move in terms of getting attention (look at that “Adam West is totally in this” cover above), even if he is only in it a total of 10 minutes.  Egeli gets some good, atmospheric shots and lighting in the film with the help of DP Thomas Lappin.  It is no surprise that Lappin went on to a big career as a camera operator on big budget films like THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 and NON-STOP (he also worked on the Maryland lensed HONOR AND GLORY [1993] around the time of XUL).  That said MAXIM XUL failed to live up to its maximal potential.  Oh yeah, you were waiting for one of those.

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